If you’re planning on shopping via your favorite retailer’s smartphone app this holiday season, be sure you’re not setting yourself up for fraud.
Fraudulent app developers are flooding Apple and Android app stores with fake shopping apps just in time for the busy holiday shopping season. Fake apps have posed as legitimate retailers for luxury brands like Moncler, Celine, and Salvatore Ferragamo, the NY Post reports.
It’s hard for experts to tell exactly how many fake apps are present in app stores because they are constantly launching and shutting down, says Ashish Toshniwal, CEO of Y Media Labs, a Silicon Valley-based product design company that has developed apps for big brands such as The North Face, Home Depot, and L’Oreal.
Fake retail apps have been a problem for years, says Toshniwal, but “it gets pretty bad over the holiday season.” Two in three retailers don’t have an iOS or Android app, which has given scammers the opportunity to create fake apps tied to legitimate retailers in hopes of luring in unsuspecting customers.
Making matters more difficult, Apple’s move in September to introduce search ads into its App Store allows developers to buy search terms in order to rank higher when you look for certain words or phrases. That means you might see fakes apps listed ahead of or right next to real apps developed by the brand.
We spoke to industry experts about what you should look for so you don’t get duped by a fake app this holiday season.
Here are 6 signs that a retail app is fake:
You’re not shopping through a trusted app store.
You should only download apps from the official Apple App Store, whether that’s online or on your phone. Some developers may create third-party marketplaces that look very similar to the online App Store, so be sure to check the address bar to avoid those.
If you have any doubts about an app’s legitimacy, go directly to the retailer’s website and see if they promote the app. If they do have an app, they will direct you to the correct source.
The reviews are poor.
If the app you’re considering seems questionable, there is a good chance someone who downloaded it before you might have commented about it. If it’s ripping people off, then someone would have likely noted that in a review.
“Don't be the first to try a retail app out," says Charlie Fairchild, the lead software engineer at WillowTree, a mobile app development company whose list of clients include PepsiCo, AOL, and Time Warner.
There are tons of typos.
Typos can be a dead giveaway that you’re dealing with an app that is not being promoted by a legitimate company.
Take for example, Footlocke Sports Co. Ltd., a fake retailer apparently trying to mimic retailers Foot Locker Retail Inc. or Overstock.com Inc. Generally, the description of fake apps will include typos or incorrect information about the company. So if you see an app for a large brand that seems like a one-off, it could be a red flag.
Also, take a look at screenshots before you download the app (most apps have to include screenshots in the app store). If the screenshots are fuzzy or look low quality, steer clear.
The company only has one app.
The app you’re considering will be connected to a developer’s page where you’ll be able to see all of the apps that company or individual currently has in the marketplace.
Generally speaking, the more apps the company has, the higher chance it’s legitimate. Fakes are more of a problem for brands that don’t have much of an app presence. Dillards, for example, doesn’t have a retail app, but it is a big brand. So it may be more susceptible to fraudsters who would abuse that brand.
“Fake companies tend to not release a lot of apps under the same name because of the chances of them getting shut down,” Toshniwal says.
While there are many brands that have developed only one app, some large companies, such as The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, develop many apps for all of the company’s brands. Because the company has made that investment, they are more likely to have a team that monitors activity in the marketplace and flags fake accounts trying to misuse the brand.
They ask for too much information.
Some apps go even further than stealing your credit card information; they may also ask for permissions to access your photos, contacts, location, or social media profiles as well.
For a simple retail shopping app, there is generally no need for an app to access your contacts or images in order for you to buy something from them. If you absentmindedly agree to a permission without reading the request, you may grant access to information or files that could be harmful to you or others you are connected to.
There are lots of annoying pop-ups.
Lastly, stay vigilant for any sketchy activity when you’re using the application. That could mean an unusual amount of ads or pop-up forms, unusually priced items, a lack of contact information, or anything else that seems off.
Don’t chance your sensitive information this holiday season. If you think you’ve downloaded a fake app, delete it immediately, and report it to Apple or Google so it can be removed.